It’s bound to happen. Someone is going to ask you to be a mentor. Be it your alma mater, a bar association, another attorney, or an aspiring lawyer, you will be asked to devote your time and expertise to guide the development of another person. The thought of playing even a small role in developing someone’s career—especially because you are a relative neophyte in the profession yourself—may seem a bit overwhelming, but there are a few things you can do to ensure success should you accept the call to mentorship (and you should!).
Understanding what your mentee expects from the relationship will help you be an effective mentor. How frequently does your mentee expect to meet? Can she contact you outside of those meetings if something comes up? What does she hope to gain from the relationship—a job, tips on how to navigate law school or a new associate position, knowledge about your practice? Discussing those objectives puts you in a better position to meet, or manage, your mentee’s expectations.
Not surprisingly, the perceived time commitment required to mentor often deters young attorneys from stepping up to the plate. Many of us work long hours and may not wish to dedicate yet more time to the profession. Fortunately, in this digital age, building a strong mentoring relationship can be accomplished with a modest investment. Maintaining communication by phone, text, email, or social media is relatively simple even with a demanding workload; it does not require an excessive amount of time or energy. I consider myself to have a strong mentoring relationship, and I devote about an hour a month to my law school mentee (depending on the month). I make it a point to meet with her at least once a quarter. I have to eat lunch or dinner, so I usually meet with her during one of those times. I am also available by email or text for questions she may have throughout the semester about classes, journal woes, or her job search. By making yourself available electronically, you can develop a strong mentor-mentee relationship that works well for both of you.
Be an active listener and take a genuine interest in your mentee as a person. It’s no secret that attorneys love to talk. We generally find it very easy to talk about ourselves, our work, and our experiences. By allowing your mentee to talk, you develop a better understanding of who he is on a personal level and, in turn, can craft your stories and provide thoughtful advice in a manner that is better received. Knowing your mentee’s dream job or law school activities will also help you determine if you should extend an invite for an upcoming CLE event on contract drafting or offer some resume review before the next round of on-campus recruiting.
Mentoring can be extremely rewarding. Not only will you impact another person’s life, and to an extent, help shape a career, you will also learn a lot about yourself. Sharing what you are doing at work, explaining complex ideas or concepts, and motivating others will help you develop better leadership and communication skills. It’s also a great way to stay abreast of new advancements in the legal field. For example, a dinner conversation with my law school mentee about the updates included in the twentieth edition of The Bluebook inspired me to create a cheat sheet to share with the other attorneys at my firm. The cheat sheet was a success, and I received personal acknowledgment from one of the partners.
Think of the best mentor you have ever had and how that person helped you develop personally and professionally. What characteristics did your mentor possess that you might emulate with your own mentee? Once the roles are reversed, using those approaches will be just as effective.